Interpreting Tricky Receiving Fouls

How would you rule on these plays?

Drag'N Thrust's Brian "Strings" Schoenrock. Photo: Daniel Thai --
Drag’N Thrust’s Brian “Strings” Schoenrock. Photo: Daniel Thai —

It’s been over two months since ESPN and USA Ultimate highlighted the Brian Schoenrock play, and we still don’t have an official word on whether or not that should be considered a foul and/or a dangerous play. There is no doubt that a lack of clarity of how the rules should apply in situations like that, and other situations, will result in more disagreements, longer discussions, lowered perception of Spirit of the Game, and more calls for third party officiation. That is squarely on USAU; if they want SOTG to thrive, it is their responsibility to provide clear rules and help players understand how those rules should apply.

One of the recommendations I made in my initial article on this play was that USAU should host a video library explaining tough calls to help players with official USAU rules committee rulings on the play1. I’ve taken the liberty to compile a handful of plays that USAU can use to start their library. These plays are specifically on receiving plays, which often generate the most confusion on rules implementation.

Dangerous Plays

On first glance, this seems like a clear dangerous play, but with the Schoenrock play in question, I think clarification is needed on this play as well. The first offensive receiver, Brute Squad’s Magon Liu, has missed the disc and the Riot defender, Angelica Boyden, makes the bid and gets a block. Contact occurs after the block, so, from my perspective, it’s not a standard receiving foul according to USAU rules (the contact itself did not impact the outcome of the play). Had Boyden not blocked the disc, presumably the second Brute Squad receiver, Leila Tunnel, would have made the reception.

Boyden has a better perspective on the oncoming contact than Liu, but that’s certainly true of the Schoenrock catch as well. Different than the Schoenrock catch, (a) Liu doesn’t have a play on the disc and (b) No player clearly occupies the space where the contact occurs first.

The question here really boils down to “what is ‘dangerously aggressive behavior’?” The rules give an example of “significantly colliding into a stationary opponent” as dangerous play but neither this nor the Schoenrock play has stationary players. Does the fact that Liu appears injured after the play while Ryan Richardson (the Slow White defender on the Schoenrock play) walks away apparently okay matter? If so, does that put an unfair burden on larger, stronger players in situations where contact may occur, take too much responsibility away from players to protect themselves, or put too much emphasis on the chance of injury instead of the act of playing recklessly?

This clip appears to show a clear dangerous play, but the infracted player in this situation is on the same team as the player who committed the infraction. In the clip, one Polar Bears receiver, Linh Hoang (#40), takes position under a hanging disc. Another Polar Bears receiver, Sawyer Thompson (#17), makes the catch and significantly collides with the stationary Hoang. According to the rules, a play can be dangerous if there is reckless disregard for other players, not just opponents.

However, only the infracted player may call a dangerous play. Presumably, you wouldn’t call a dangerous play against your own teammate in any situation. And, if you did, what would the outcome even be? Should the rules be rewritten to specify that dangerous plays only apply when endangering opponents? Or should other teams be able to call dangerous plays on their opponents when they endanger their own players?

This last question seems particularly pertinent in the above example as one Mixtape defender, Brad Houser, could have made a similar play as Thompson but chose not to because he (seemingly) recognized the danger. Should Houser have the ability to call a dangerous play foul?

I think dangerous play rules are particularly interesting because they (a) are specifically in place to address safety of player, (b) require perspective that the infracted player, almost by definition, often doesn’t have, and (c) are very subjective.

Second Effort Plays

One area where there is often both a lot of potential for contact and a lot of confusion about how that contact should be resolved is on plays where the initial playmaker did not make the play. Is there a different set of criteria that we judge or should judge contact on second effort plays? Does it matter if the first effort was an unsuccessful one (such as a mis-timed reception) vs. a tipped block? Do players that make a successful first effort get more allowance for contact after their play but while the disc is still playable?

This play from Windmill Windup is a classic confusing second effort foul call. A floaty backhand reset throw goes up and the Bad Skid defender, Florian Boehler, goes up to tip it away. Chiniya Rada’s Sam Harkness, who was following the play, attempts to collect the tipped disc but is tripped when Boehler stumbles as he comes down from his block.

This one is a hard call for two reasons. First, it’s unclear whether Harkness can make the catch even without the contact. Second, does Boehler have “rights” to the space where the contact with Harkness occurred? Could Boehler have landed in a more controlled way in which contact didn’t occur?2 At least those are the questions that I think need to be resolved to understand this play.

This play from 2014 Club Nationals is similar. Here, a huck goes up to GOAT receiver Jeff Lindquist. Sub Zero defender Josh Klane tips the disc and proceeds to fall. Lindquist attempts the second effort but trips on Klane who has fallen to the ground. It appears that Lindquist would have had a relatively easy catch on the second effort had he not gotten tangled with Klane. But, like the previous example, does Klane have a right to the space that he’s falling into? How controlled does the landing from a bid have to be?

Here’s another play where the contact happens after the first bid at the disc. Machine’s Jonathan “Goose” Helton goes up for a huck with Ring of Fire defender Noah Saul trailing. Helton’s bid is early and he can’t catch it on his first effort. As he comes down, Saul is going up. Contact occurs contributing to Helton’s awkward landing which leaves him on his knees while trailing Ring of Fire defender, Hunter Taylor, knocks it away.

By the book, I think this is a pretty clear foul: Saul initiates contact and that contact has an impact on Helton’s play on the disc. But, there is something that is not satisfying about a player missing an initial bid and then calling contact on the second effort.

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One final second effort close play, this again from GOAT vs. Subzero at 2014 Club Nationals. The huck goes up to GOAT’s Jonathan Martin and Subzero’s Drew Mahowald recognizes it from across the field. Mahowald goes up earliest and gets a small piece of the disc. All three players go down as the disc lands a few feet away.

Presumably, had the disc landed further away giving Martin no chance at the disc, this would clearly not be a foul. But, since the disc was still playable the contact that happens after the initial play could be a foul. The questions here would be (a) Is the contact non-incidental (i.e., would Martin have been able to land with enough control to make a play had there not been contact?) and (b) who is initiating the contact? This is tough because we are so used to judging these types of plays by the contact that happens prior to the initial attempt at the disc.

All of these second effort plays so far are tough is because once the initial bid doesn’t finish the play, chaos often follows. Players are off-balance or on the ground (both due to their own initial attempt and the contact involved), the disc’s path has often changed, and players are quickly trying to change direction to make a play on a redirected disc. Writing rules that closely mirror what we want to see for first efforts plays often don’t apply well for the chaos of second efforts. I’d love for the USAU’s Standing Rules Committee to clarify how the current rules apply to these specific plays and perhaps take a shot at adapting rules that take into account different standards on second efforts. While this could be quite difficult to get right, the NFL, for example, has a different standard for contact when the ball has arrived and prior to the ball arriving.

One Last Fun One

This play from 2011 Northeast Mixed Regionals doesn’t fit either of the two categories above, but has been discussed at length before and would be a great one for an official USAU SRC ruling. Disc goes up to The Ghosts receiver, Paul Batten. Batten has perspective on the disc and the defender and goes up early and in front of the defender. The defender seems to go up and into Batten pushing him higher (or holding him up) to help him make the grab.

Much of the online discussion seems to center around the often misused and misunderstood Principle of Verticality rule. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a legitimate Principle of Verticality violation so, if this is indeed one, it would be helpful to highlight it. That said, I don’t think Batten is jumping into the defender’s vertical space here any more than the defender is stepping into the space Batten has jumped into.

This seems to be a question of whether it is a standard receiving foul and so the questions are (a) is the contact non-incidental? and (b) who is initiating the contact? But, there are two issues that make this play more difficult. The first is that the contact seems to be helping the receiver (as opposed to most foul contact which hurts a player’s chance at a bid). The second big issue is line of sight. Batten may not initiate contact but is he jumping in a way that the defender can not avoid? If so, is this a blocking foul?

Over the years, I’ve watched this play so many times and don’t have a clear understanding of how the rules should apply in this situation. Maybe I’m making this play more confusing than it should be so I would love some official SRC clarity on this one.

All of these plays would make a good start for an official rules interpretation database. If the video of these plays is insufficient for the USAU SRC to make official rules interpretations, they can at least provide guidance on what issues are at play in each of these and how players should go about interpreting the rules and resolving each issue in plays like these.

  1. As an aside, when I first started writing, I imagined writing about these tough calls to explain how the rules should apply and discuss also how we might change the rules to make the rules better match how we want the game to be played. In the last year, and particularly with this play, I’ve been humbled some and realize that stating my opinion on these plays might introduce further confusion. I think it’s on USAU to provide clear guidance. 

  2. Laudably, WFDF has made an official statement on this call. In this case, the statement does not make a conclusion but does bring up the issues that need to be resolved. Perhaps that’s the best we can do with some of these tough calls, but even that helps us move toward a better understanding of the rules. 

  1. Kyle Weisbrod

    Kyle Weisbrod has coached several teams including U of Washington women’s team, Monarch HS, Paideia Girls Varsity, and the US U19 Girls national team. He began playing in 1993 at The Paideia School and has played for Brown University, Johnny Bravo, Chain Lightning, and Bucket. He was the UPA’s first Director of Youth Development and served on the Board of Directors. He currently resides in Seattle, WA. You can reach him by e-mail ([email protected]) or twitter (@kdubsultimate).

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